I lied to him.
I felt really bad about it, but I lied to him.
As Alcide drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as we sat at a red light the next day, I couldn’t help but stare down at my lap, feeling guilty. I was wearing a very loose tank top and black track suit. Eric had handed it to me out of a box in the closet. It was for a woman, so I just assumed it was Pam’s. It looked completely out of character for me, but it was the only thing Eric had lying around that a) fit me and b) hid Mo. I needed to hit a maternity store. Once we got to our destination and Alcide cottoned onto our little secret, I might as well throw a shopping spree on top of it. He wasn’t exactly an ideal candidate for shopping for elasticated jeans and nursing bras, but if I didn’t get some soon, I was going to have to cut arm holes into potato sacks.
I sighed. So many secrets.
He cast me a sideways glance as the light turned green and he stepped on the gas. “Everything okay?”
“Any particular reason why you need to visit this particular health food store? In the daytime? I checked and they’ve got evening hours. Unless his highness is beneath escorting you to buy organic water, or whatever. I’m sure they deliver, too.”
I had to tell him the truth. We’d be there any minute and he’d see that I wasn’t after cage-free eggs and locally-sourced okra like I’d fibbed I was. Yeah, yeah. I know, I know. Didn’t mean I couldn’t bitch out a little. I stuck out my tongue. “Maybe I just miss my friend. Ever thinka that, smart ass?”
He smiled good-naturedly. “I miss you, too. So why can’t we go out for burgers instead of freeze-dried lentils?”
“Or maybe you’re just chomping at the bit to get back to your ‘other’ job. Your back must be broken, bending around Hadley’s little finger the way you do.”
“Hey!” he pointed a finger at me. “Dontchu go draggin’ her into this. She’s a doll.”
“A sex doll, maybe.”
“Aw, hell,” He shielded his eyes from me with the fan of his fingers. Like that was gonna keep me out.
I laughed. “Don’t be a prude. There’s nuthin’ in your head I haven’t seen, and worse.”
“Shit, you’re not looking at it, are ya? Please tell me you ain’t.”
I made a noncommittal noise. “Eh.”
Maybe I bitched out a lot.
Despite my teasing, I was stupid-happy for both of them. Neither had said as much to me, but their working and living arrangements had become so entangled, and the way they acted together in public, practically shouted that they were now romantically involved. I enjoyed making both of them squirm with the suggestion that I’d intercepted the information from their heads, but the truth was that I didn’t need to. They were about as subtle a lush uncle at the Christmas table. That, and Eric pointedly sniffed the air every time Alcide came near him, making damn sure he saw him do it, just to amuse himself as the sweet man blushed and shuffled and scoured the floor with embarrassed eyes. I guess he reeked of hot monkey sex.
Eric and I were such sadists.
I settled back into the seat of his truck and closed my eyes. We still had about fifteen minutes before we got to Ludwig’s clinic. I thought back to earlier that morning. After we got home, I’d gone upstairs to shower and change while Eric did his usual: prowling the perimeter, searching for unwelcome guests, checking his security measures, and other alpha male stuff that convinced him that his home and family were safe.
I’d dug out Gran’s old tailor ruler from my purse. It was so old and had been used to often that the numbers over the inch marks were nearly worn away. I’m not sure why I kept it with me, maybe I just liked having a little piece of her with me, but regardless, it was useful now.
Standing in just my panties, I slid the limp tape around my breasts first. I’d always been a solid thirty-four incher. Not too busty, but not flat, either. As I lined the tape up along my back and across my nipples, the battered numbers informed me that I was now the proud owner of three extra inches. That put me at a modest D cup.
I looked at my girls in wonder. They were noticeably fuller. And despite my lack of a bra, they stood high and perky. I cupped them experimentally, equally surprised at how tight and supple they felt in my hands. I squeezed gently. The sensation made them stiffen and ache. They knew I wasn’t Eric. They were getting pissy that their master wasn’t the source of the attention.
I left them alone and slid the measuring tape to the even larger bump underneath them.
I traced it with my fingers. Already, it was bigger than one day ago. Before all this, I’d been a healthy size six and perfectly content with it. I lined the tape up once again and flipped it up, numbers facing me.
I let out a low whistle as I took in my new measurements. I knew they wouldn’t stay that small for long. At this rate, I was going to give birth in a couple of weeks. The thought immediately made my heart skip a beat. With all the talk about boys and girls, scions and hybrids, impossibilities versus what was literally right before my eyes, I hadn’t even given one single thought about the fact that I didn’t own a crib. Or a stroller. Or diapers. Or onesies. Or tiny little booties to put on his tiny little feet. My baby was going to come into this world naked…and stay that way unless I got my ass in gear and bought him some essentials.
Oh, my word.
I swallowed carefully. It could be done in an hour. I knew that. Eric and Pam would explode in a tizzy of credit card numbers, online catalogues and next day UPS. One of his many, many bedrooms would be converted no sooner than my pointing a finger at my choice and saying simply, “That one.” It would go from elegant to Elmo like that.
I knew that.
I still couldn’t help feeling completely overwhelmed.
I stared at the tape, trying not to hyperventilate and wondering vaguely if I stood there long enough, if the number would bump up to thirty-one while I was watching it.
I closed my eyes and took slow, careful breaths.
I didn’t even know he was there until I heard him exhale a small puff of air.
I startled, my head jerking up, my eyes opening wide.
Eric stood in the doorway.
His shirt was already on the floor, his pale chest bunched up tightly as he stared at me with bellicose, lustful eyes. I was used to seeing it, but damned if it didn’t get my heart fluttering just the same.
He was already straining against his zipper, growing even bigger as he watched me. My fingers curled around the tape. Aside from my panties, it was the only thing I was wearing.
“Hi,” I whispered.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he inhaled sharply, sniffing me out. I gasped softly. I was gonna ask him what had him so hot under the collar, but that seemed silly given that I already knew.
I let the tape fall to the floor. I just stood and let him look at me. Look at what he’d done to me.
We stared at each other with ten feet of floor between us.
With everything running through my mind, I honestly couldn’t think anything to say.
I felt his blood tingle in my veins, buzzing happily at his closeness. I felt my Radia acknowledge my presence by throbbing hotly from its proxy in my man. I saw his pectorals twitch at the sensation. I saw his pupils darken as he wrestled against the paradox of two masters and two slaves in the room, twisting our twin bonds into a Mobius that never began or ended, and yet never covered the same ground twice.
And then… a tiny foot kicked inside my belly.
I let out a squeak of surprise, my hand curving around the spot.
Eric’s head went up. His eyes went almost black. Then he was on his knees in front of me, batting my hand away and pressing his forehead reverently into the spot where our tiny baby had just struck.
“I heard that,” he whispered in awe.
He rubbed his head back and forth, alternating between his ear and his nose pressed against my bump. He listened. He scented. Then he tilted upwards letting his lips brush against the undersides of my very tight breasts. His eyes rolled up and closed.
“I…” I stuttered, watching in pure amazement.
He looked completely blissed out again, like he had in the Fae world. He’d surrendered his sight in return for experiencing our child purely through scent and touch. I wondered offhandedly if there’d ever been a blind vampire before. If a sightless person had ever been turned. If their sight remained lost, or if they regained it in a flurry of super-healing. What kind of hyper-senses would they have had without their eyes? Hearing the ocean waves in Topeka? Reading books with their fingertips?
I cupped his throat in my palms. For all my fears, I felt a little less lost with the king of Louisiana and Mississippi kneeling at my feet, ready for my command to defend or snuggle. “We need diapers.”
“Finally. A request. They’ll be riveted with Mo’s birthstone.”
“I mean it. We don’t have anything. Gran gave all of mine and Jason’s baby stuff to goodwill. She said it was a sin to keep useful things boxed up in the attic when other families needed them.”
“She was wise. And I don’t need to tell you that our baby will never want for anything. He’ll be clothed and fed and happy for the eternity that he lives with us.”
“You really think he’ll be unkillable like the tome says? And immortal…like us?”
He’d been sliding his tongue between my stomach and my tits. He opened his eyes… and his mouth, just to show me a tiny hint of fang. “No one will ever get close enough to test the theory.”
“You can’t protect him from life, baby. That theory will be put to the test the minute we put him in a car seat. Or a bathtub. Or in his crib at night. You don’t need a deranged killer bent on stopping the Coming in order to die.”
Another centimetre of fang met my observation. “And yet, the fact remains. He will live. Forever.”
I smiled at his stubborn certainty. “I’m getting you coffee mug. Anyone sitting across from you will know you’re the WORLD’S BEST DAD.”
He gave me a lazy smirk. “And this little one,” he tapped my swelling belly, “will wear my onesie. So everyone will know that his MOM’S A SUPERHERO.”
I grinned, sliding my hands deep into his gelled hair. I broke its hold and the strands worked their way out into a tussled, softer style. Our bond grew woolly with his rough-soft pleasure at being petted.
“I’ve called Herveaux. He’ll pick you up tomorrow to take you to Ludwig.”
I nodded, giggling suddenly.
His brow went up in question.
I leaned down and kissed the heart shape just behind his lips. “Ready for your physical now?”
“Your phyyysicaaal,” I sing-songed playfully. “The doctor’s orders. I need a blood sample,” I fingered my dagger pendant, “…and a semen sample. I know how much you hate giving them to me, but if it makes you feel better, it’s for science.” I pushed at him until we tumbled gently to the floor together. His hands trapped protectively around my middle as I laid on top of him, squirming and wriggling against his hard-on. He was glaring at me while trying not to smile.
“Why can’t I say no to you?”
“Cuz you secretly like being bossed around.”
He looked genuinely rankled. “I never did before.”
I softened my teasing tone and snuggled deeper into his hands. “Or maybe you just like a challenge. You’ve been irresistible to everyone for so long, you’d forgotten how to argue against someone you couldn’t just glamor or kill.”
“So now you’re suggesting I’ve become lazy?” he chuckled, tucking me close before rolling us over and laying me carefully on the floor beneath him.
“Atrophied. If the world were made of tin cans, how would you ever know how strong you were when they crush so easily?”
“Simple,” he said. “Crush several cans, then pile them together and try to crush the stack.”
“Jerk,” I laughed. “You know what I mean.”
He smiled kindly, tracing my face, choosing silence.
I let him, happily running my hands over his arms and shoulders, delighting in the warmth I’d given him.
“I wish you were coming with me tomorrow,” I sighed wistfully.
He merely nodded, watching his index finger stroke my cheekbone. It slid further, down under my chin, against my pulse, circling my breast. I arched slightly.
He shook his head slowly. “How can you possibly be prettier than you already were?”
My nerves sang where he touched me, while the neglected ones tried to crowd into the small trail he left behind. My hands turned possessive, squeezing his arms impatiently. My panties were drenched, growing wetter as I squirmed under his stare.
“Such a man,” I joked, trying to lighten the dark, hungry mood. “Give me bigger boobs and I can rock his world,” I paraphrased.
He ignored me, fixated on his finger. He drew a line between my nipples, watching them pearl with pleasure. Then he lifted himself slightly, sliding the single digit along until he reached the sumit of my bellybutton. The tight skin broke out in goosebumps.
“Beautiful Sookie,” he murmured to it. “You needn’t worry. I’ll drown you in blood and semen long before this afternoon.”
I shuddered, my body vibrating with anticipation. I sent a prayer to the universe that I kept enough of my wits to remember to collect some of his offering for the doctor, and not greedily lock it away in my body.
“Come on,” I coaxed, pulling my dagger loose from its sheath and pawing at his fly. “Open your pants and say ‘aaaaaah‘.”
And that’s how I ended up in Alcide’s truck the next day, feeding him some crap about needing groceries with two vials of bodily fluid in my purse.
As we approached the next intersection, I gestured left. “Turn here.”
Alcide shook his head. “Store’s the other way.”
“I know. We’re not going to the store.” I gave him a So Sorry Face and pointed again. “That way.”
He squinted suspiciously, but followed my finger. “Where we going?”
My face pinched harder with the Sorry. “Burgers?”
“My ass. Damn you, baby sister. Wherever we’re going, is there a good chance we’re gonna get killed?”
“Nope,” I answered honestly. “No killing. Just… not the store.”
I procrastinated telling him the whole deal until he’d pulled into the clinic’s parking lot and killed the engine. He saw the sign, then looked at me again, his lower jaw sawing back and forth in irritation. “You gonna give me a hint here, Sook?”
We shared a quiet stare for what felt like forever.
I was turning into Eric. When in doubt, stare hard. Shut yer yap. Reveal nothing. Lie.
I wanted to lie. Again. To a very dear friend.
But that was pointless. In another day or two, it was going to be painfully obvious. I could try to continue to hide under increasingly baggy clothes, but close friends and family – anyone we decided to enlighten – would know soon enough. Pam was already suspicious.
I bit down on my ever-growing caginess and looked Alcide dead in the eye.
He snorted. “And I’m Mae West. Fuck you. Quit fuckin’ fucking with me.”
I lifted my top and flashed him my round belly.
He actually threw himself against his door, turning fully towards me while pushing back as far as he could get. “Holy shit!”
“I’ll be a … Who’s the father?”
I gave him a skeptical look. “Who do ya think?”
“Who do I think? Who do I THINK? It must be God Almighty his-Christly-self, cuz I KNOW for a fact it ain’t Eric. And what the fuck? You were flat as an iron two weeks ago! What the hell is going on, Sookie?!”
Oh, God. This was going to be everyone’s reaction. Maybe I should skip the heart-to-hearts with everyone and just send out a group email with a photo of my stomach.
A bun’s in the oven. See attachment. Hold all questions until the fate of the universe has been settled.
I quickly covered my stomach again and put my hands out in a Don’t-Freak-Out position. “I know, and there’s a perfectly rational, if not totally secret, reason for all of this that I cannot tell you about. But trust me. I’m pregnant. It’s Eric’s. And everything is just fine. Probably.”
I pointed to the clinic. “They don’t have night hours, so Eric couldn’t come for my first ultrasound. So, he asked you.”
His head was slowly shaking back and forth. “Man, I miss werewolf problems. Deltas fighting and bitches whelping and pack-related shit. I don’t know if vampire problems or Stackhouse problems are worse.”
I nodded sympathetically. “It’s a photo-finish, I’ll give you that.”
He palmed the back of his neck, looking totally lost. I reached out and patted his knee, letting him process. The air in the cab turned into kindly concern as he glanced at my covered stomach and his eyes went soft. Eric had been right. Alcide was a natural-born father. Children turned the big, bad wolf into a pushover Labradoodle.
He took a long, unnerving inhalation through his nose. I’d seen Eric do the same many times. Scenting the air for my baby. It was amazing how intimate the action was, given that the man himself never moved.
“Do you smell him?”
He narrowed his eyes, taking another breath. The look of confused concentration on his face made me feel better. If my baby didn’t smell normal to Eric or Alcide, then maybe we could continue to hide him for just a little longer.
He dragged air through his teeth, making a clicking noise. “I smell something, now that you say it. Before, I just thought you smelled like Eric. And you, obviously. Now… I dunno… there’s something there. Like… flowers? Maybe? And… I’m not real sure because I’ve never smelled the real thing before, but you kinda smell like… I dunno, frost or something. Or ice. But like, old ice. Ice that never melts. It’s real clean, like there’s no rot where it comes from. The smell of Eric’s blood is similar, the smell of your birthplace never leaves ya, but this… It’s like your baby’s from the last Ice Age.”
He shrugged, frustrated. “Never smelled anything like it. But it’s faint. Very faint.”
I’d been watching him struggle with his description, fascinated. He and Eric had such a lucky ability. I hated my human nose and how it blocked my chance to know my own child in such a magical way. I smelled nothing on me except peach soap and conditioner. I was painting by numbers while these two men knocked out a Rembrandt without trying.
“That’s him,” I whispered. “Eric said the same.”
He inhaled again, but not for scent, and rose up higher in his seat, an alpha male rearing up. Must protect pregnant female. His eyes were filled with nothing but concern. “Is he gonna be like Hunter?”
Hunter. The mind-reading nephew, just like his aunt. I had no answer to that and told him as much. I left out that Mo being born a mere telepath was the least of our worries.
He accepted that, looking at the clinic like it was Everest.
“So,” I chirped sunnily, smiling like Crazy Old Sookie. “Wanna be my date?”
He chuckled, “Are we pretending it’s mine?”
“I guess. Ludwig said she’d have false paperwork for me. If there’s no daddy listed, you can be the concerned brother or something.”
“Speaking of, have you told Jason yet?”
“Has a blonde lunatic shown up at your door with a shotgun, demanding you or whoever the responsible party is make an honest woman out of me?”
“You ain’t gonna tell him it’s Eric’s?” he asked.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead, but I doubt it. I can’t handle the only man in my family coming down with Daddy Issues for me. I’ll tell him he’s gonna be an uncle, when I figure out the right words, but I’ll avoid it until the little guy’s fourth birthday, if I can. I don’t need protection from this, and Jason will just rejig reality until he’s certain that I was cloistered away in a nunnery making cookies for orphans and reading to the blind when some villian in a black cowboy hat ran me down and took my innocence away. Pretty rich, coming from a vaunted cooch collector like Jason, but I know my brother. He’ll see red until there’s a wedding.”
“What about everybody else? You seem to be moving right along down there,” he pointed at my belly.
“One day at a time, Alcide.”
“Fair enough,” he acquiesced. “Shall we?”
We went inside. Ludwig met us immediately and ushered me through the waiting room filled with women sporting anything from a potato to a basketball under their shirts. She pointed to an empty chair next to a magazine rack filled with Cosmo and Little Tykes.
“You sit there,” she barked at Alcide.
I gave him an apologetic look for the hundredth time as I was led away, leaving him in a herd of swollen, weepy, angry, horny mothers-to-be. Whatever Eric was paying him, it wasn’t enough.
As we walked through the hall, I reached in my purse and pulled out the two small vials, one white and one red. I showed her discreetly in my hand. She took them and pocketed them without a word. That part of the examination was strictly off the books.
She brought me into a darkened room and gestured to the plastic-covered bed. “Please lie down. Roll up your shirt and pull down you pants slightly.”
I did as I was told, leaning back gingerly until I was settled, then pulling at my clothes until my bump was bare. As I’d suspected last night, it had already grown a bit.
She took out a squeeze bottle from a cupboard filled with medical supplies and sprayed my belly with cool blue jelly. She applied some to the span of what I assumed was the ultrasound wand, then pressed it gently against my hip.
A screen above the bed sprang to life, a black window with a bunch of tiny numbers and indecipherable medical symbols scattered on it.
I cleared my throat. “I, um… I never got to thank you, doctor. For helping us the way you are? I don’t know what we would have done without you.”
Ludwig was watching another, smaller screen next to my head that faced her, away from me. She didn’t spare a glance at me, and just nodded absently as she began to move the wand through the jelly up higher along my belly.
“Try to relax,” she instructed. “Watch the monitor. You’ll be able to see her in a minute.”
I blew out a breath and tried to follow her directions. I released my weight, trusting the bed to hold me. I watched the dark screen anxiously. I had no idea what to expect.
Suddenly, a long, gray, fuzzy shape popped up. The doctor’s eyes softened with certaintly as she began to move the wand in what seemed like a familiar pattern to her.
“The thigh bone,” she said out loud. She pushed a bit upwards. The shape changed into a fat, multi-shaded oval. “The abdomen,” she identified.
The shape roiled and twitched, the different areas of gray going darker or lighter. She zeroed in on a strange black spot. It trembled at such a rapid speed, I actually jumped when the doctor flipped a switch and the room filled with a thick whooshing noise.
“The heart,” she said. “Very healthy. All chambers have formed well.” She listened a moment, clicking her mouse, taking measurements. “Her rate is excellent. All major organs are working normally.” She moved away from the heart, but kept the speakers on so I could listen to the insane little beat. “Spine and skull are within accepted parameters, no signs of Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida.”
She moved again and looked at something big and spongey. “Placenta,” she said. “Good thickness. Well placed in the uterus. No threat of blockage.”
She went quiet for awhile, clicking her mouse, moving around my stomach, deep in her element.
I just stared.
I stared forever.
I don’t think I blinked once as I watched the image expand and contract like a black-and-white kaleidoscope. The whooshing sound sped up, then slowed down. It looked like the baby was moving around a lot. The wand seemed to chase it around the tight confines of my womb, always finding it before it up and swam away again.
Like its parents. It liked a good chase.
The wand swooped and pressed deep into my pubic bone. The shape reformed. I felt breathless, looking at the profile of what was clearly a teeny, tiny baby, curled up on its side. Little hands, little feet, big round head. I couldn’t believe it.
Ludwig held the wand still. “Would you like to know the sex?” she asked.
My eyes darted from the screen to her time-worn face. “You can tell? Already?”
“Already my eye, Miss Stackhouse. I know you’re Fae, but in human terms, you are six months along. Everything I can detect shows me that your child, while sped up, is perfectly healthy. No indications of mutation or malignancy. Our tools for examining magical children are crude, but so far, the baby is normal.”
Relief flooded me. I knew we had a long way to go, but at least we’d cleared this first hurdle. Mo was healthy. And fit to be tied, from what I could see.
“The sex, Miss Stackhouse?”
“Oh,” I replied, coming back to her. “Um…I hadn’t thought about it. I was just so anxious about what you’d find, I didn’t…” my thought petered out.
She waited expectantly.
I swallowed a nervous lump in my throat. “You already saw? You already know?”
“Yes,” she answered.
We’d know in a few weeks. We’d know for the rest of our very long lives. Finding out now without Eric felt wrong. He should be here when we hear the news for the first time. I wanted us to look into each other’s eyes when we discovered together. To see each other’s joy, no matter the answer.
I should wait. I should call him secretly so that he can at least hear the news with me, even if I couldn’t see him. I should hang on until the birth and just let it be a surprise.
“Tell me,” I whispered.
She gave me a rare, small smile. “Congratulations, Sookie Stackhouse,” she said. “You have a son.”